Primephonic Review: The Spotify for Classical Music
Classical music is the oldest surviving form of music in the world. Amazingly, experts believe you can trace a direct line from the postmodern classical music of today all the way back to its roots in 2695 BC and the ancient Egyptian orchestra.
Considering its age and enduring popularity, it is perhaps surprising that classical music is the “forgotten genre” of mainstream streaming services .
Well, not anymore. If you’re a fan of classical music you should be rejoicing at the moment. Because you can now enjoy your favorite tracks on a brand-new streaming service called Primephonic.
What is Primephonic? What benefits does it offer? And how does it compare against Spotify and Google Play Music? Keep reading to find out.
The Problem With Classical Music
Firstly, let’s make something clear. Classical music is available on Spotify, Google Play Music, Tidal, and any other well-known streaming app you can think of. It always has been, and it always will be.
However, there’s a problem you’ll encounter when every trying to deal with classical music on those services: the metadata.
How can you force movements, compositions, multiple recordings, performer, composer, conductor and everything else into the highly restrictive artist/song/album fields you find on most streaming apps? You can’t.
Let’s take a simple example. How would you find Carlos Kleiber’s version of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony played by the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra on Spotify? Who would Spotify list as the artist? Beethoven, Kleiber, or the orchestra? And what about a classical track which also includes operatic vocalists? Where are they included?
Short of rewriting the entire app, there’s not much the providers can do about this genre-specific problem. The upshot is classical music aficionados are stuck in a never-ending battle with miscategorized music, hard-to-find tracks, and impossible-to-navigate playlists.
The Primephonic Solution
As of June 2017, there’s a new app in town. Called Primephonic, it aims to solve the classical conundrum with a service exclusively dedicated to the genre.
Of course, if you’re a classical music fan, you might still be able to find metadata errors , but they should be much fewer and further between. Primephonic enlisted the help of six musicologists (yes, that’s a real job) to meticulously check and complete the metadata for more than 100,000 classical tracks.
Speaking to Billboard, Primephonic’s co-founder Simon Eder said classical music fans needed more ways to find the content they care about:
“For example, [take] the Mozart piano concerto. What a classical music listener would see in Primephonic is an overview of all the piano concertos that Mozart composed. What I would see on Spotify is basically a list according to their priorities and according to popularity, which is, of course, one important way to sort music but for the classical music listener, not the only one.”
Eder goes on to describe the history of classical music as “a kind of skeleton or tree” that Primephonic is adding albums to. The more information the company adds, the more accurate the metadata becomes.
“We are putting all the information around the composer, the artists, and the albums, and attaching them to the relevant arm of the tree. That’s an approach that is not relevant for an all-in streaming provider,” concluded Eder.
What Music Can You Expect?
Primephonic’s music library is vast. It boasts 100,000 tracks, 6472 artists, and 234 record labels.
The library was boosted significantly just a week before launch when Primephonic managed to agree on deals with Warner Classical and Sony Classical for their entire post-1950 catalogs. Considering those labels are the home of modern classical stars such as Vanessa Mae, Conrad Tao, and Joyce Didonato, as well as world-renowned orchestras like the Orchestre National de France, the Royal Opera House Orchestra, and the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra, it was a huge coup.
Primephonic also has deals in place with Naxos, Harmonia Mundi, Chandos, Bis, and 2L, among others.
If you sign up and can’t find the album you want, you need to be patient. Because metadata is being added manually (at the rate of 200 albums a day), Primephonic says it will be at least three months until all of its music is fully available.
Naturally, you will also find thousands of royalty-free tracks. This music is already widely available on free classical music sites such as Musopen (which is also great for sheet music ), but Primephonic represents the first time it’s been meticulously tagged and uploaded to a dedicated streaming service.
Primephonic shines in the quality of its audio. Unlike Spotify and YouTube, it offers all of its music in CD quality FLAC 16-bit.
It might not sound important, but it is. The difference between a lossy and lossless version of Richard Wagner’s famous opera The Ring is much more noticeable than on Justin Bieber’s latest hit. For classical music fans, this is a very welcome feature.
Finding Tracks and Using Metadata
Because Primephonic has built its library and metadata from scratch, it offers a number of ground-breaking classical music-centric features that you won’t find on other streaming services.
- Bundles — Users can listen to a single track, then use the service’s extensive metadata to find the larger work it is part of. They can then bundle the work into a single track, and add it to a playlist.
- Classical-music centric search tools — You can use a wide variety of search tools and filters to find exactly what you want. They include genre, mood, era, instruments, orchestra, composer, and more.
- Educational snippets — As well as pleasing the devotees, Primephonic also wants to help bring classical music to the masses. As such, each track is loaded with context, and the site is packed with original editorial content. The company’s aim is to educate and explain classical music theory as you listen.
For every artist on the platform, Primephonic has created an encyclopedia entry.
Yes, Spotify and the rest do offer something similar, but it’s only available for particular artists. You will only find extensive bios if the artist in question is either an historical superstar or a current Top 40 popstar. Sadly, few classical artists meet these requirements.
However, on Primephonic, it doesn’t matter how obscure the artist, you will be able to see some information. For the most famous composers in history, you will find detailed summaries, much like a Wikipedia entry. As you’d expect, the encyclopedia entries include links to songs.
It seems like the encyclopedia is merely a forerunner to what will be one of the service’s standout features: a way to give a bigger profile to classical musicians.
“We’re trying to offer a digital branded space for the artists, for the orchestras, for the conductors to give them a little more depth. Nowadays what’s so important for classical musicians is they’re not making the big money with recordings, it’s important for them to be visible in the digital sphere. They’re touring internationally, because they want to be seen, because they want to be heard and they want to be engaging.”
— Simon Eder
In addition to the streaming service, Primephonic also offers a music store. It offers both new releases and old classics. For example, you will find RIOPY’s new Drive album alongside Bach: Celebratory Cantatas.
Several filters, including audio quality, label, composer, conductor, and orchestra are available, letting you finetune your search to find exactly what you want.
For each album, you can either purchase the complete recording or the individual songs on a track-by-track basis. Subscribers to the streaming service get a 10 percent discount on all purchases.
Location, Cost, and Platforms
Firstly, if you’re outside the United States or the United Kingdom, it’s bad news. You will not be able to stream music yet. You can fill in your details on your account page to be notified when the service becomes available in your area.
Assuming you’re in the U.S. or U.K., Primephonic offers a 30-day free trial to all users. Signing up for the trial gives you full access to the music library. Once your free trial is over, you can sign up for the full service for $14.99 per month. In the future, the company hopes to offer “part-time” subscriptions. These will let usere sign up for certain days of the week when they have more time to enjoy the masterpieces.
At the moment, Primephonic is only available via a web browser. An iOS app will become available later this year. There is no news yet on an Android app, but it’s hard to imagine it will be too far behind the iOS app.
Payment of Royalties
The likes of Mozart, Chopin, and Brahms might be playing music to angels these days, but there are still countless orchestras and artists recording and releasing the same compositions — and they need paying.
The mainstream streaming services pay artists per click; every time someone plays one of their tracks, they get compensated. For a three-minute pop song, it’s an approach that works. But for a three-hour symphony? Not so much.
Instead, Primephonic pays by the second. It puts 60 percent of its net revenue into a payment pot. The company then divides the pot between all of the artists and rightsholders. This is based on the total length of time their music was played for.
Is Primephonic the Service You’ve Been Waiting For?
Is Primephonic perfect? Of course not. Nonetheless, if you’re a classical music fan, it’s a huge step up from Spotify and Google Play Music in terms of both features and usability. And it looks likely to keep on improving in the weeks, months, and years to come.
Are you a classical music fan? If so, we would love to hear your thoughts about Primephonic. What parts of do you love? What parts still need more work? As always, you can leave a comment below. And don’t forget to share the article on social media!